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Government sinning by denying AIDS drugs

Posted on: February 8, 2002 12:58 PM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

The government was sinning against God by denying life-saving medication to mothers and children facing the threat of HIV/Aids, Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town said on Friday.

In a toughly worded speech prepared for delivery at the opening of new premises for an HIV research unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, he said that the government was accountable to God.

"When the government stands in the way of our right to life, then the government has overstepped its boundaries," he said. "Withholding truth and maintaining the silence of denial is sinful."

The Archbishop, who has repeatedly called for South Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic to be declared a national emergency, said that people of faith valued life, especially the lives of mothers and their children.

"The continuing policy of silence and denial, which withholds life itself, is unacceptable," he said. "It violates our Constitution, which guarantees life to all citizens, and for which many have already died in the struggle for our freedom."

The government has come under fire for refusing to administer anti-retroviral drugs to rape victims reporting to state health facilities. It has also been challenged over its reluctance to provide the same drugs to HIV-positive mothers, to reduce the possibility of transmission to their children during birth.

Calling for leadership that could be trusted and supported, the Cape Town primate said, however, that he had been encouraged by a recent statement by President Thabo Mbeki that the government had a comprehensive AIDS policy "premised on the fact that HIV causes AIDS".

Government spokespersons are on record as saying that the AIDS policy is based on the "premise", rather than "fact", that HIV causes AIDS.

Archbishop Njongonkulu urged the government to do more towards preserving the lives of South Africans at risk. It should legitimise the distribution of drugs to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of the disease, and to help the survivors of rape combat infection.

"We invite our government into a partnership for life, rather than a confrontation over death." He said that incidents such as the recent wrangle over the administration of anti-retroviral drugs to raped Northern Cape Baby Tshepang made him fear that "we are frozen in the headlights of bureaucratic stubbornness".

Article from: South African Press Association